Secret Project 2019: SoCal’s premier house and techno event [Festival Review]
For the underground dance music community, it’s commonplace to opt away from the perceived bigger forces in the scene. It’s all in the word “underground,” after all. Finding people who believe the best of the best is within in the lesser-known corners is not a difficult task; they reside in the dark warehouses, the hidden rooms protected by passwords, or in clandestine desert or forest clearings. These type of environments are held sacred among the community, and many wish the scene had never left them in favor of a more “corporate” direction.
What this aversion to the supposed mainstream doesn’t change is that these forces know what they’re doing, and Insomniac proved their excellence in underground dance music tastemaking once again with Secret Project 2019.
Since Factory 93 really began hitting its stride, the response in Los Angeles has been massive. Dozens of club nights and larger events have been popping up around the city all year. But all those events culminate in this one weekend that brings a lineup no Euro-snob could brush off. Not only were there some heavy-hitters like Insomniac books for their other huge offerings, but so too was a swatch of artists representing every facet of underground dance music who were showcased in new, exciting ways.
In general, at Insomniac events, it’s typical to see some sort of house or techno-oriented stage hosted by Drumcode, Moodzone, La La Land, or Paradise. Secret Project did not tap any of those. The only themed stage was DJ Tennis’ Life and Death on Saturday, or the day when the music fell just a bit flat to some attendees.
The common consensus around the festival was that Sunday packed most of the real heat, and this idea was reinforced by the fact that detractors of Saturday’s selections felt that the most anticipated artists of the day did not deliver at the top of their game. Some on social media voiced their opinion that Dixon played a bit meagerly set for his closing slot. Others argued that Loco Dice and William Djoko played it safe in their back-to-back. That isn’t to say Saturday was total bust by any means; one artist who really came through on Saturday were Ben UFO, the sole pure DJ on the lineup, who once again proved that producing your own music is completely separate from putting on a great show. Jayda G played an incredible disco set to a cheery daytime crowd, while Gerd Janson’s prowess in skillfully eclectic mixing was on full display.
Sunday, however, made up for any mediocrities and then some. From minute one all the way until the end of the night the music was dynamic and seductive. Beginning with Denis Sulta and his effortless nonsensical transitions (he closed with “I Remember”), everyone from there felt the need to top each other. Modeselektor introduced a kind of energy to the dancefloor that was equal parts punk rock and heavy techno. Ame and Kink shared a live set that broke all musical boundaries. And Four Tet, well he displayed a level of musicianship that is almost entirely absent from electronic music all while Nina Kraviz and Helena Hauff were dealing out earth-shattering techno.
As good as the music was though, the music isn’t what made Secret Project the best house and techno event in SoCal. Every event out here books top-notch artists. From heavy-hitters like CRSSD and Insomniac events to those in the aforementioned password-protected hidden rooms, it’s easy to find a good party.
Secret Project rather, through its lineup and aesthetic, attracted the best people in the SoCal scene into one spot for the weekend. That’s what made it really special. Even someone with the most pessimistic impression of raves and ravers couldn’t say anything negative about the crowds. This was a group of thousands of close friends who all knew how to handle themselves. Everyone was there to enjoy the music and each other. Rudeness didn’t exist. Sloppiness (almost) didn’t exist.
Beyond that, the extra space for dancing was appreciated to the highest degree. There was no pushing. No shoving. No struggling to find your spot again. It was so easy to leave for whatever reason and come back five minutes later. The one water station almost never had a line, and using the bathroom was a painless experience. Some overzealous security guards were the only logistical snag, but everyone can understand the reasoning behind that.
In truth, things only improved from last year. Insomniac clearly knew they were on to something special after the inaugural edition and just made some slight edits that made all the difference.
Rather than go all-in on sensationalized VIP experiences, the upscale Arts District watering hole Apotheke was now open to all ticket types. And because this crowd was in it for the music, there was practically never any wait to get inside. If you wanted to take a load off and enjoy the lounge’s plush couches, simmering space heaters and impeccable service along with a delectable signature cocktail, all you had to do was take a jaunt. Plus the overhead view of the Spring Stage from the lounge was immaculate.
Secret Project was not an event meant to display the titanic influence of Insomniac. That’s EDC Las Vegas, and those events certainly have their place (EDC sold out faster than ever before this year). Secret Project was a labor of love. Love for underground dance music culture. Love for the Los Angeles dance community. Just pure love. It was in the air. It was in the music. It was in our hearts.
Photo Credit: Get Tiny, Banfy, Ivan Maneses for Insomniac Events